How to headhunt without annoying other employers

John Burnell offers advice on subtle headhunting

Q: We need to fill a senior position and have identified someone in another charity whom we would like to invite to apply for the position. What's the best way to do this?

A: Welcome to the world of business. It might surprise you to learn that in the private sector, at least 70 per cent of senior vacancies are filled by headhunters or by word of mouth, not by public advertisements.

Your approach will be affected by whether you expect to have a closed recruitment exercise or intend to advertise the job, hoping the person will put themselves forward.

If the latter, they are likely to hear about the vacancy anyway - nowhere are people better informed and connected than in the voluntary sector. So letting them know that the job is being advertised is only telling them something they'll know anyway, although the fact that you have told them is bound to whet their appetite.

But if you're pretty convinced this is the best person for the job and you don't want to go to the expense of a public advertising campaign, you may need to be a bit more sensitive. After all, you'll have to maintain good relations with another charity employer who might be a bit narked that you've tried to poach one of their staff. Think how you might feel if the positions were reversed. Only when the deal is clinched can you go public.

Find someone who knows the target employee well, and get them to arrange a private drink with just the two of them. At this meeting, your trusted person can raise, indirectly and subtly, the possibility of working with you.

If the candidate shows an interest, your person can be a bit more open, mention the specific vacancy and suggest they might like to meet your chief executive to discuss things further.

If they are reticent, showing no signs of wanting to move, don't push it. Instead, ask about what sort of person they think would be best to fill a vacancy that you have coming up, as it's the sort of area where their expertise would be useful. That technique is one that professional headhunters often employ. If it's a really key post, you might even consider using headhunters to make the approaches on your behalf. It's what they're good at.

- John Burnell is director of Personnel Solutions

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